Thomas Cochrane Dundonald (Earl of).

The autobiography of a seaman, Volume 2 online

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such a depth of water ? "

Lord Cochrane (putting in the charts). — "It was axiv/My
from the soundings we had going in^ provided the tide does
not fall more than twelve feet, which I am not aware of. I
studied the chart of Basque Soads for some days before. The
rise of the tide, as I understand from that, is from ten to
twelve feet. It is so mentioned in the French chart. I have
no other means of judging.'' *

Judge-Advocate. — "This chart is not evidence before
THE Court, because his lordship cannot prove its cor-
rectness ! ! "

President. — No ! It is nothing more than to show upon
what grounds his lordship forms his opinion on the rise
and fall of the tide / / " f

♦ This was ftdly corroborated by Captain Malcolm, when, having
said that " there were no obstacles to prevent the frigates and some
ships of the line from going into Aix Roads, he was asked by the
President, " if he made known to the Commander-in-chief that by
keeping close to the Boyart Shoal the ships might have ^one in?"

The reply was in every way remarkable.

Captain Malcolm. — " I do not know that I mentioned this to the
Commander-in-chief. The charts showed it." — Minutes, p. 214.
A complete corroboration of the correctness of my charts tendered to
but rejected by the Court ; though as these had been supplied imder
the sanction of the Admiralty, it was out of the question to reject
them as the basis of evidence, inasmuch as there could be none other
of a reliable nature.

f The following extract from my evidence, and the singular
remark from Admiral Yoxmg, are extracted from the minutes of the

" The Commander-in-chief had the same charts as I was in pos-
session of, and from these I formed my conclusion with respect
to the anchorage. In reconnoitring the enemy's fleet, so near as

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It was not put in for any purpose of the kind — for
I had expressly said that I had no opinion as to the
rise and fall of the tide, except as marked on the
French official charts. The object of my putting in
those charts was to show the truth of the whole matter
before the Court The president, however, flung the
chart under the table with as much eagerness as the
Judge-Advocate had evinced when objecting to its re-
ception in evidence.*

The object of the chart was in fact to prove, as indeed
was subsequently proved by the testimony of eminent offi-
cers, and would have been proved even by the ships' logs
had they been consulted, that there was plenty of channel
room to keep clear of the batteries on He d'Aix, together
with abundant depth of water f ; and that the comman-
der-in-chief, in ordering all the ships to come to an
anchor^ in place of sending a portion % of the British

to induce him to open a fire from almost his whole line, I reported
to the Commander-in-chief the ruinous state of He d'Aix, the
inner fortifications being completely/ blomn up and destroyed. There
were only 13 guns mounted."

Admiral Young. — " Will you consider, my Lord Cochrane, before
you go on, how far this is relevant " ! ! ! — Minutes, p. 58.

My assertion of the fact that the Commander-in-chief's charts were
identical with my own, as having come from the Admiralty, was con-
sidered irrelevant, because, had they been put in, or mine not rejected,
there could have been no doubt of the result of the court-martial.

* It is a singular circumstance that notwithstanding the chart was
flung under the table and rejected by the Court, I foimd it hound up
amongst the Admiralty records !

f The ships which were sent in though too late were untouched
by shot or shell. For the depth of water they foimd on going
in, see page 71.

X My signals were, " half thefieet can destroy the enetny." Then,
" the frigates alone can destroy the enemy." Yet in his defence

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ships to the attack of the enemy's vessels aground
on the north-west part of the Palles. Shoal, on the
morning of the 12th of April, had displayed a " mollesse''
— as it was happily termed by Admiral Graviere —
unbecoming the Commander-in-chief of a British force,
superior in numbers, and having nothing to fear from
about a dozen guns on the fortifications of Aix ; which,
had the ships been sent in along the edge of the
Boyart, could have inflicted no material damage, either
by shot or shelL*

These were precisely the points which the ministry
did not want proved, and which — as will presently be
seen — the Court was no less anxious to avoid proving.
Had the French chart been received in evidence, as
it ought to have been — I do not say mine, but
those on board the flagship itself, or indeed any copy
supphed by the Admiralty to the fleet — a vote of thanks
to Lord Gambler would have been impossible^ and with
the impossibility would have vanished the Govern-
ment prestige of a great victory gained by their com-
mander-in-chief, under their auspices.f

The French official chart being thus adroitly got rid
of by the Judge- Advocate, the other charts tendered
by me to mark 'the positions of the enemy's ships

Lord Gambler assumed that I had signalled for the fleet at a time
when, as he alleged, it could not have floated for want of water ?

* See Captain Malcolm's evidence, page 58. Also Captain Grod-
frey's, of the Etna^ who " thinks some of the enemy's shot went
over them" {MinuteSy p. 173), but admits that not a mast, yard,
or even a rope-yam was touched.

t " I was furnished by Lord Cochrane with a French chart, and
considered it a good one.^^ — Evidence of Captain Newcomb, p. 199.

" I had for several years been in the possession of oflicial French
charts, which, in my previous cruises, had not been found defective,

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aground shared the Uke fate, though not open to the
same objection. The exactness of the positions was
moreover confirmed by the evidence of Mr. Stokes,
the master of the Caledonia^ Lord Gambier's flagship ;
though his chart, substituted for those in use amongst
the British ships, was in direct contradiction to his
oral evidence.

The positions, of the ships aground as marked on my
charts, were as follows.

The Oceariy three-decker, bearing the flag of Admiral
Allemand, and forming a group with three other line-of-
battle ships close to her, lay aground on the north-west
edge of the Palles Shoal, nearest the deep water, where
even a gun-boat, had it been sent whilst they lay on their
bilge, could have so perforated their bottoms, that they
could not have floated with the rising tide. All were
immoveably aground, and were therefore incapable of
opposition to an attacking force*; whilst each of the

and from those charts I had at all times drawn my conclusions with
respect to the depth of water, or other circumstances which related
to the navigation on the enemy^s coast.'^

President. — " The coast of the enemy, I suppose you mean ? "

Lord Cochrane. — " I refer to the French coast."

Admiral Young. — " When did you discover that there was this
anchorage in deep water ? "

Lord Cochrane. — " I have said that in going in I found the
soundings correct, and that, in fact, I had such confidence in the
chart, that I had said to Admiral Keates, when we were off there,
and to Admiral Thomborough, that there could he no difficulty in
going in there and destroying the enemy' 8 fleet, I took the chart on
board Admiral Thomborough's ship." — See my Letter to Admiral
Thomborough, vol. i. p. 195. — Lord Cochrane'' s Evidence, p. 57.

* " Till about noon, the Ocean, three-decker, was heeling consi-
derably, and appeared to me to be heaving her guns overboard" —
Captain Malcolm (Minutes, p. 309). She escaped about two o'clock
P.M., just before I advanced in the Imperieuse, lest all should escape.

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group of three lay so much inchned towards each other
as to present the appearance of having their yards
locked together.* They had, in fact, drifted with the
same current, into the same spot, and being nearly of
the same draught of water, had grounded close to each
other. The one separate was a vessel of less draught
than these, and had gone a httle further on the shoal

The correctness of these positions, as marked on my
chart, was completely confirmed by Mr. Stokes, master
of the flag-ship, in his oral evidence as subjoined.

Question. — " State the situation of the enem/s fleet on
the morning of the 12th of April."

Mr. Stokes. — " At daylight I observed the whole of the
enemy^s shipsy except two of the Ime^ on shore. Four of them
lay in group, or lay together on the western part of the
Palles Shoal. The three-decker {I/OcSan, flagship) was on
the north-west edge of the Palles Shoal, with her broadside
flanking the passage ; the north-west poi/nt nearest the deep
waiter.^* — {Mvmites, page 147.)

This was the truth as to the positions of the groimded
ships which escaped; these being referred to in Mr.
Stokes's evidence precisely as marked on my rejected
chart. That is, his evidence showed, in corroboration
of my chart, the utter helplessness of an enemy which
a British admiral refrained from attacking^ thoiigh
aground I

* "I think their yards were not locked." — Evidence of Mr,
Fairfaxj Minutes, p. 144. It was, however, so nearly^ that Mr.
Fairfax, a witness carefully in Lord Gambier's interest, could only
think about it. He reluctantly admitted that all lay ^' within a ship's
length of each other,^^ and ships lying aground on their bilge inclined
towards each other at an angle of thirty degrees are — if not locked
together — completely incapable of resistance.

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The French charts produced by me being thus re-
jected, those in the possession of the Commander-in-chief
not produced, and those connected with the fleet not
being called for, the court decided to rely upon two
charts professedly constructed for the occasion by the
master of the Caledonia^ Mr. Stokes, and the master of
the fleet, Mr. Fairfax, neither of whom was present in
the attach''^

Chart C

was tendered to the Court by Mr. Stokes, the master
of Lord Gambler's flag-ship Caledonia.

This chart professed to show, and was sworn to by
Mr. Stokes as showing, the positions of the enemy's
ships aground on the morning of the \2th of Aprils be-
fore the Ocean three-decker, together with a group of
three outermost ships near her, had been permitted by
the delay of the Commander-in-chief to warp off* and
escape. Instead, however, of placing these on his chart
as they lay helplessly aground " nearest the deep water "
as he had sworn in his evidence^ they were placed in

* It is a remarkable feet that many of the witnesses chiefly relied
on by the Commander-in-chief, in confinnation of his having done
his duty, had not been in Aix Roads at all, and could therefore have
no knowledge of anything, except their remaining inactive with
the fleet whilst the enemy's ships were warping off". Mr. Stokes
was of this mtmber ; yet all were questioned on points known only
to officers intimately acquainted with Aix Roads, and present at the
action. But for the court to adopt exclusiveli/y as will presently
be seen, a chart constructed by a man who admitted that an im-
portant portion had been laid down from hearsay/, was monstrous ;
the more so, as the official charts, would have shown the truth.

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on the other side of the sand, in the positions occupied
after their escape I and to this Mr. Stokes swore as their
position when first driven ashore I The Ocean three-
decker, and group in particular, which, according to Mr.
Stokes's oral evidence, must, as already stated, have
been an easy prey to a gunboat had such been sent
on the first quarter instead of the last quarter flood,
was thus placed on his chart where no vessel could
have approached them I *

This falsehood on Mr. Stokes's chart, in opposition
to his oral evidence just given, as weU as to the evi-
dence of other officers, formed one of the principal
grounds of Lord Gambler's acquittal ; and it was for
this end that the official French charts presented by me
for the information of the court were rejected by the

On the presentation of Mr. Stokes's chart to the
court, the subjoined coUoquy took place as to the me-
thods adopted in its construction.

Mr. Bicknell. — "Produce a chart or drawing of the
anchorage at Isle d'Aix, with the relative positions of the

* Mr. Stokes, moreover swore, in his evidence, that the Ocean
three-decker lay on the north-west edge of the Palles Shoal, and that
the group lay on the western part of the same shoal, though the
latter observation was incorrect, as the group lay around the
Ocean, which formed a part of it. On his chart these vessels are
placed to the south-east of the shoal, and the remainder nearly due
EAST I I That is, in place of being " nearest the deep water,^' where
they were easily attackable, they were placed on the chart "farthest
from the deep water,^^ where they were not attackable. He swore
too that they lay with their broadsides "flanking the passage " to
Aix Roads. On his chart, not one of them " flanks the passage,"
but all are made to flank the opposite direction ; so that they could
not have fired on any British ship which might have been sent in.

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British and French fleets, and other particulars^ on and
previous to the 12th of April last."

The WUneea ^produced it.

Mr. Bicknbll. — " Did you prepare this drawing, and from
what documents, authorities, and observations ; and are the
several matters delineated therein accurately delineated, to the
best of your knowledge and belief? '*

Me, Stokes. — "I prepared that drawing (Chart C),
partly from the knowledge I gained in sounding to the south-
ward of the Palles Shoal, and the anchorage of the Isle of
Aix.* The ouUinea of the chart are token from the Neptune
Fra/ngoiSy and the position of the enemy's fleet from Mr.
Edward Fairfiax, and from the French captain of the ViUe de
Varsovie^ and the British fleet from, my own observation."
The distance between the sands was copied from a French
MS. which will be produced, and that I take it is correct.

Mb. Bicknell. — " Are the matters and things therein accu-
rately described ? "

Mr. Stokes. — " They are."

President (inspecting Mr. Stolces^s chart). — " There was
a large chart you lent me ? "

* In his subsequent evidence Mr. Stokes admitted that he had
never sounded there at all previous to the action I

Question. — " Had you any knowledge of that anchorage previous
to the 12th of April?"

Mr. Stokes. — " None whatever ! " — Minutes, p. 148.

He swears that everything on his chart is accurately described^
then, that " the distance between the sands," which was one of the
most important points of the court-martial, tras copied from a French
MS. ! the name of whose author he does not think proper to com-
municate, nor does the court ask him ! nor was any MSS. produced
in Court. Yet, as master of the Admiral's flagship, Mr. Stokes
must have navigated her by the French charts supplied by the
Admiralty, though these when tendered by me to the Coiut had been
rejected. The fleet could, in fact, have had no other for its guidance,
as no British siuvey of Aix Boads was in existence. Such charts
were surely a better guide in any case than an anonymous MSS.

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Mb. Stokes. — " That is the chart I allude to. This chart
I produce as containing the various positions/*

Judob-Adyocate (to the President). — " This Chart is


pp. 23, 24.)

No doubt — the trouble of confirming the Comman-
der-in-chiefs neglect of duty in not following up a
manifest advantage, as would have been shown had
the court allowed the Neptune Franqois itself to have
been put, in evidence; for it would have shown a
clear passage of two miles wide, extending beyond
reach of shot, instead of the one mile passage in Mr.
Stokes's " accurate outlines " of the French chart, and
no shoal where he had marked only twelve feet of
water 1 * That the president shpuld have allowed this
to pass, after having himself detected the imposition
practised on the court, is a point upon which I will
not comment.

Mr. Stokes further admitted his chart to be valueless,
as regarded the position of the enemy's fleet ashore, for
he said that position was taken "/wm Mr. Edward
Fairfax and the captain of the Ville de Varsovie^ and
the British fleet from " his own observations.'' That
is, he confessed to know nothing but from hearsay as to
the position of the enemy's fleets the important object
before the court ; but only of the position of the British
fleets lying at anchor nine mUes from the enemy's fleet
ashore, a matter with which the court had nothing to do ;
he being all the time on board the flagship, at that
distance. Yet the court insisted on this chart being ex-

* Compare charts A and C.

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clusively referred to throughout the court-martial! * It
is strange that such a chart should have been used at
all, when the charts of the fleet were available, but
more strange that, when the court saw the two miles
passage in the French chart was reduced to little more
than one mile in Mr. Stokes's chart, he was not even
asked the reason why he had not conformed to the scale
of the French chart, to the correctness of the outlines of
which he had sworn I

But the most glaring contradiction of Mr. Stokes's
chart is this : he swore to his chart as truly depicting the
positions of the Ocean and other grounded ships, as they
lay on the morning of the 12th of Aprils which was the
point before the Court; but being further questioned,
reluctantly admitted that he had marked the Ocean

* The President thus dictated to Captain Bereaford : — " Captain
Beresford must say whether the ships are marked on that chart (Mr.
Stokes's) as they appeared to him." Captain Beresford took no
notice of the order.

Captain Bligh was less independent when asked to vouch for the
accuracy of Mr. Stokes's chart. He " thinks the enemy's ships, on
the morning of the 12th, were as there represented, though Mr.
Stokes, in contradiction to his own chart, had sworn that they were
not so marked, but only those that were destroyed ! "

When asked if the ships aground could have annoyed the British
ships had they been sent in ? Captain Bligh replied, " I think ihoj
were capable of annoying the British ships." — Minutes, p. 154.
He, however, immediately afterwards stated that the ships "were
not within reach of the guns of the British squadron."

Captain Kerr " thinks the situation of the enemy's fleet on the
morning of the 12th was marked on Mr. Stokes's chart as nearly as
it can he. There were seven sail-of-the-line ashore, and two afloat."
— Minutes, p. 166. What had the numbers ashore or afloat to do
with their exact position ? A palpable evasion of the question was
permitted by the court.

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as she lay on the 13th of April, viz. on the following
day when an attack was made on her by the bomb
vessel/ though he had just sworn to the positions of
the ships on the chart as being those on the morning of
the 12th, immediately after having run ashore to escape

The fact was, as will be seen on inspectiorl of the
chart, that not one of the ships under the cognizance of
the court is marked on Stokes's chart as they lay on the
morning of the 12th, which position, and not that on
the 13th, was the subject of inquiry. Though as ah-eady
said this misrepresentation was detected by the Pre-
sident, the court nevertheless persisted in the exclusive
use of Mr. Stokes's chart throughout the trial, in ac-
cordance with the suggestion of the Judge- Advocate,
that it was produced to " save a great deal of trouble''

The President thus commented on the manifest con-

President. — "I observe in the chart I had from you the
situation of the Ocean particularly is not Toarked on the
12th. She is marked on the ISth as advanced up the

Mr. Stokes. — " The only ships marked on the chart on
the I2th are those that were destroyed. The reason I marked
her on the 13th is, that a particular attack was made on her
by the bombs. I observed her from the mizentop of the
GaledanAa*y and I also had an observation from an officer y
so that I have no doubt her position is put down within a
cable's length." (Minutes p. 147.)

There is something in this evidence almost too re-

• Nine miles off. This answer shows most forcibly the nature
of the data on which Mr. Stokes's chart was constructed.

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pugnant for observation. Mr. Stokes first swore that
his chart accurately described the positions of the
enemy's ships ashore on the morning of the 12th. He
then admitted that the most material ship of the enemy's
fleet waa marked as she lay on the IZth 1 1 On this mis-
statement being detected by the president, he then
swore that the only ships marked on the 12 th were those
which were destroyed^ viz. on the evening and night of
the 12th I — a matter foreign to the subject of inquiry ;
which was how the ships lay on the morning of the 12th^
and whether Lord Gambier was to blame for refraining
from attacking them at that particular time? So that
the positions of the enem/s ships aground on the
morning of the 12th, according to Mr. Stokes's own
admission, were not marked on his chart at all I though
he had sworn to this very chart as giving those positions
accurately to the best of his knowledge and belief; and
with the full knowledge that their position on the
morning of the 12th, when they were helplessly aground,
was the point before the court, — not their position
in the evening, and on the following day after their
escape to a spot where the British ships could not have
pursued them.

The fact is, Mr. Stokes swore to their positions after
their being warped off in consequence of the British fleet
being prematurely brought to an anchor — as being their
positions previous to their escape! which was the
matter of inquiry before the court, viz. as to whether
the Commander-in-chief had not committed a neg-
lect of duty in permitting them to escape by the
rising tide^ when and before when the British force
coiUdhave operated with every advantage in its favour.

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The court had nothing whatever to inquire about
with regard to the ships which were destroyed^ re-
specting which there could be no question ; the sub-
ject of inquiry being whether the escape of the other
ships run ashore from terror of the explosion vessels on
the night of the llth, and still ashore on the morning
of the 12th, ought to have been prevented.

Not so much as one of the ships marked on Mr.
Stokes's chart formed part of the "group" to which
he had sworn, in his oral evidence, as lying on the
" western and northernmost edge of the Palles Shoal,
nearest ike deep water ^ aU of which escaped towards
the Charente, where he truly enough placed the Ocean
three-decker, but as she lay on the 13th instead of
the 12th, he having sworn to the truth of his chart
as showing her position on the morning of the 12th !
It was a desperate venture, and can only be accoimted
for by the supposition that, in reaUty, Mr. Stokes had
never seen the chart to which he was swearing. It
was no wonder, as proved in the first chapter, that
Mr. Stokes appUed to the Admiralty for permission to
alter his chart before producing it in a court of law,
where it must have fallen under my inspection 1

I will indeed so far exonerate Mr. Stokes from a
portion of blame, by declarmg my beUef that he never
had looked at the chart to which he had sworn. There
is little question in my mind but that this chart had
been fabricated under the auspices of Mr. Lavie, Lord
Gambier's soUcitor, the only hope of success consisting

Online LibraryThomas Cochrane Dundonald (Earl of)The autobiography of a seaman, Volume 2 → online text (page 3 of 36)